UCT in top 10 in world subject rankings

24 March 2016 | Story Carolyn Newton. Photo Michael Hammond.

According to the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, UCT has ranked among the top 10 universities in the world in development studies for the second year in a row. Other South African and African universities also performed well in the rankings, particularly in this field.

The QS subject rankings use a combination of research citations and reputational surveys of academics and graduate employers worldwide. They are the largest of their kind, and this year they featured 42 disciplines. UCT scored in 31 of these – the most of any African university. South African universities achieved places in the top 100 in 21 subjects (12 of which were at UCT). This is six more than last year.

Development studies is the most competitive subject offered by South African universities. UCT was tied 9th in the world with Stanford University; the University of the Witwatersrand followed close behind in 14th position. Other African universities also performed strongly in this field – Makerere University in Uganda was 30th in the field, and the University of Nairobi ranked in the top 100.

UCT also performed strongly in geography, where it ranked in the top 50 in the world.

Other UCT subjects in the top 100 were education, medicine, archaeology, English language and literature, law, engineering (mineral and mining), architecture and the built environment, agriculture and forestry, anthropology, and politics and international studies.

Subject rankings give a more nuanced picture of university strengths than the overall university rankings. For instance, it is worth noting that while US universities occupy five of the top 10 places in the world rankings, only three reach the top 10 in development studies (of which Harvard University takes top place).

While UCT does not have a stand-alone department of development studies, its strong showing in the field is not surprising, given that it is reflected in many of the university's strongest interdisciplinary research areas, such as the African Centre for Cities, the African Climate and Development Initiative and the Poverty and Inequality Initiative. All of these contain academics that are internationally recognised as leaders in their field.

Development studies is integrated into a large number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at UCT, including gender studies, sociology, information systems, social development, computer science, energy, urban planning, political studies, economics, sustainable minerals development, film and media.

UCT regards international ranking systems with a measure of caution. The QS subject rankings, as with all the international rankings, are designed as a comparative measure, so they rank universities in relation to one another rather than against an objective measurement.

However, having universities that rank globally in any subject, and rank globally overall, benefits the country as a whole. It sends the message out to the world, including academics and business people who are contemplating studying or investing in South Africa, that the country's higher-education system is globally competitive. The university benefits directly because prospective students and staff use the rankings to decide where they wish to study and advance their academic careers.

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